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  • Fiadhira Rasyah

Dangdut Koplo to Koplo Remix: A Musical Evolution


Twenty years ago, Dangdut Koplo was merely a simple regional music; today, this subgenre of Dangdut has grown to become one of the most popular genres in Indonesia. However, within the Indonesian popular music sphere, Dangdut carries various stigmas and is generally considered the least preferred choice among music genres. It is not the primary genre people in Indonesia would choose, as music originating outside of Indonesia or anything embodying Western composition or arrangement tends to be more appreciated. Thus, as an adherent music, Dangdut/Koplo has its own ways to voice its stance against the dominant or mainstream culture. Various reactions can be expected when the word 'Dangdut' is mentioned among Indonesians, especially those residing in the capital city.


"That is music for the lower class, you know."

"It hurts my ear; it's too intense."

"National music of Indonesia, right?"

"Rasanya berdosa kalau dengerin dangdut, tapi enak banget (listening to dangdut feels like committing a sin, but it is so good)."

"Ambyaaaarrr!"


The reception surrounding Dangdut remains polarized, and the origin seems to be contested. Not to mention, some Indonesians are still ashamed to acknowledge the music because of its reputation. 


Back to the roots

In the early 1990s, the decentralization of the governmental system allowed music from various cities to flourish. Central Java saw the rise of campursari, West Java embraced pop sunda, and East Java embraced koplo as a subgenre of Dangdut. Koplo, in particular, posed a challenge to the traditional style of dangdut. Inul Daratista, regarded as the precursor of koplo, played a pivotal role in this transformation with her provocative performances that challenged the conventions of 'classic dangdut.'


Inul Daratista (Image credits: hesty-rachman.blogspot.co.id)


Dangdut practitioners, however, distanced themselves from koplo. For example, Rhoma Irama expressed concern that Inul Daratista's erotic spectacles could potentially tarnish the nation's morale due to their sensual nature. Such statements contributed to shaping the perception of koplo as a campy, sexual, and banal form of music. Inul Daratista, as a trailblazer in the realm of dangdut koplo, is frequently overlooked for her role as a precursor who champions freedom of expression, women's rights, and the agency of their own bodies. It is crucial to emphasize her contribution to a form of feminism within the dangdut koplo genre. 


In the 2000s, koplo gained nationwide popularity, facilitated by the widespread distribution of pirated VCDs. The surge in pirated VCDs was initially a consequence of the monetary crisis in 1998, where affluent individuals could weather the economic storm with their savings, but those less fortunate faced financial hardships. In the context of pirated VCDs, this phenomenon provided access to music for those who couldn't afford it otherwise. However, it's worth noting that the most widely pirated genres were dangdut and koplo.


The initial development of koplo is closely tied to the spatial and infrastructural significance of the 'Jalur Pantura,' a major road in Java connecting five provinces. This road, bustling with traffic, notably trucks and intercity buses, often resonates with the sound of koplo music. This mirrors the journey of local koplo singers as they traverse the Pantura road before reaching the capital. 


Furthermore, East Java, where koplo originated, gained notoriety for hosting the prostitution site known as 'Dolly,' and koplo music frequently accompanied the atmosphere in that area. Consequently, the media portrayed koplo as synonymous with a nightlife filled with elements such as alcohol, sex, and leisure.


The dissociation of 'classic dangdut' from koplo sparked discussions, highlighting the contestation of koplo as a distinct music genre. Koplo's aesthetic deviated from the traditional dangdut style, breaking conventions and rules of pre-existing music. As a result, not everyone embraced koplo, with a significant portion of the audience remaining unconvinced or disapproving of its departure from the established norms.


Koplo now

Feel Koplo (Image by SoloEvent)


The Koplo remix, encountered sporadically, is a product of Indonesian popular music that emerges through the innovation of past elements of dangdut. Koplo bears a strong local element, adding a distinctive intercultural identity. Feel Koplo, for instance, serves as a modern example that has led the way in the revival of Koplo. Other notable figures in the contemporary Koplo scene include Ndarboy Genk, Denny Caknan, and Via Vallen.


What distinguishes Feel Koplo from the aforementioned acts is their remixing of pop music, whether Western or Indonesian, in combination with the instrumentation of dangdut koplo. This hybridity is appreciated among the younger generation. Previously confined to night markets, koplo now finds its place in elite clubs in the Sudirman area of Jakarta.


Koplo remix has incorporated compositional and production techniques of electronic dance music, placing koplo in an entirely different context. This hybridization has become the defining and distinctive feature of koplo remix. The DJ and MC play a significant role in their performances, influenced by the Westernization deeply embedded in the Indonesian dance music scene. The attempt to fuse koplo with electronic elements may be seen as radical, especially by older generations. Nevertheless, this transformation has paved the way for a new genre to emerge.


"If repackaged, I think everyone could enjoy the music," shared Tendhi, a member of Feel Koplo, reflecting on the concept of combining old and new. ('DANGDUT DULU DIHINA SEKARANG DIPUJA | FROYONION MEETS FEEL KOPLO' 03:15–05:21, [https://youtu.be/NtS0P1hl5ng?si=isIFyjI6W1gYQ02u])

The revival of koplo serves as a propeller for musical hybridization and the assimilation of the genre, resulting in blurred boundaries across genres and time. This development is believed to represent the future of popular music and culture. Feel Koplo, in particular, sets a positive example, advocating for the acceptance and embrace of koplo without shame. The stigma associated with listening to dangdut or vibing to its beats has dissipated, contributing to a cultural rejuvenation. Youngsters have found ways to embrace their own culture, especially through participation in local festivals, where what used to be pushed aside and labeled as campy, banal, and low-class is now embraced with pride.

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